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Helena judge rules on Barrus mental state

lloyd barrus trial .jpg
Posted at 2:28 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 18:40:53-04

HELENA — A state district judge has ruled the defense for Lloyd Barrus, the man convicted in the 2017 killing of Broadwater County Deputy Mason Moore, did not meet the burden for him to be ruled “guilty but mentally ill.”

Judge Kathy Seeley’s ruling paves the path for sentencing, and for him to serve his sentence in prison rather than the state hospital.

In her decision, Seeley said that although Barrus did suffer from a mental disorder, he repeatedly showed an understanding of the criminality of his actions and the ability to “conform his behavior to the requirements of law.”

The judge pointed to the sentencing of Michael Keith Spell who received 100 years for the killing of Sidney teacher Sherry Arnold in 2012. Although Spell is mentally disabled, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a District Court ruling that his intellectual disability did not prevent him from understanding the criminality of his actions.

“I’m proud that our DOJ prosecutors helped hold this dangerous criminal accountable for his actions and put him in prison where he belongs. Throughout this trial, our team has been committed to finding justice for Broadwater County Deputy Mason Moore, his family, and all victims involved. I’m glad the court agreed with us and made the right decision today,” said Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen in a statement.

A jury found Barrus guilty of deliberate homicide by accountability and two counts of attempted deliberate homicide by accountability on Sept. 21, 2021.

Following the trial, his lawyers sought to have him ruled “guilty but mentally ill.” Montana law says a person can be found guilty but mentally ill if they have a condition that left them “unable to appreciate the criminality of the defendant's behavior or to conform the defendant's behavior to the requirements of the law.”

At a January hearing, Barrus’ defense called Dr. Virginia Hill, a recently retired forensic psychiatrist at the Montana State Hospital who had previously treated Barrus, to testify about his mental state. She said his condition “robbed him of the ability to appreciate and conform,” and recommended he be committed to the state hospital and continue treatment.

The prosecution called forensic psychiatrist Dr. Alan Newman who said Barrus may suffer from a delusional disorder, those delusions are separate from his anti-government attitudes. They also pointed to reported use of alcohol in the time leading up to the chase as a contributing factor to his actions.

Judge Seeley ultimately thought Newman's opinion was more persuasive and noted that Hill may have become an advocate for her former patient.

The case was prosecuted by Montana Department of Justice attorneys Dan Guzynski and Stephanie Robles. A sentencing date has not been set.